From the Liberty Bell to the State Capitol, there are many historical and entertaining places to visit in Eastern Pennsylvania. Whether taking a local road trip or planning a weeklong vacation, you can be sure to find something of interest in the southeastern part of the Keystone State.
The best time for this trip is April through October, when you don't have the concern of winter snow and ice. While Pennsylvania is beautiful year-round, you don't want to be stranded and not get to your intended destination.
Known as the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia is full of history. You will want to spend a couple of days in this area to take in just a few of the many things to see and do.
I recommend the Duck Tour or a hop-on, hop-off bus tour to see everything Philadelphia has to offer. Guides provide an overview of the sites, and you can go back for an extended visit to the places you are most interested in.
A few of the must-see places in Philadelphia are located in Independence National Historical Park. Preserving national and international symbols of freedom and democracy and representing the founding ideals of our nation, the park houses Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the National Constitution Center, the Ben Franklin Museum, and so much more.
Independence Hall is where the United States Constitution was debated and adopted, and we all know the story of the Liberty Bell.
These sites are open year-round, and I recommend spring and fall for visiting. Summer is hectic and crowded with long lines to see things.
Other must-see destinations in Philadelphia include:
- Penn’s Landing, a stretch of parks and multicultural eateries along the Delaware River
- Elfreth’s Alley, a national historic landmark and historic street in Philadelphia. There are 32 houses on the street, all built between 1703 and 1836
There are all kinds of tours available, including walking tours.
On our first visit to Philadelphia, we enjoyed a Duck Tour that took us from the Historic District to the Museum District to see all the landmark sites, then splashed into the Delaware River for a 20-minute water cruise. The tour was terrific for all ages.
Philadelphia has all types of food and restaurants available. One place you can't miss is Reading Terminal Market. There, you’ll find just about everything imaginable, but it is an especially great place to get a cheesesteak sandwich, a soft pretzel, and all kinds of treats.
While visiting Philadelphia, take time to drive 35 miles west to visit Longwood Gardens. The gardens are open year-round with special events and activities throughout the year. Enjoy 1,077 acres of landscaped gardens with fountains and over 4,600 different types of plants and trees.
You will want to plan for at least a four-hour visit to enjoy everything this stop has to offer.
When you leave the gardens, drive north for 25 miles on U.S. 202 to Valley Forge.
King of Prussia
Valley Forge National Historical Park
Another historical site, Valley Forge National Historical Park is where the Continental Army encampment took place in the winter of 1777-78. The 3,500-acre park commemorates the sacrifices and perseverance of the Revolutionary War generation.
Bring a picnic lunch and eat in the park or buy snacks at the Encampment Shop.
There are many restaurants outside the park in the surrounding areas. If you are a shopper, the King of Prussia Mall is nearby. It is the second-largest shopping mall in the United States with almost 400 stores.
Our next stop is about an hour's drive on I-76.
As you enter Pennsylvania Dutch Country, your first stop will be the Ephrata Cloister, a medieval-style compound of the monastic Seventh Day Baptists. The 300-year-old austerely beautiful clapboard buildings with tiny dormer windows feature narrow hallways that symbolize the straight and narrow path, and low doorways reminded members of humility (even short people will need to duck to pass through.)
There are self-guided and guided tours through the seven buildings and the grounds. Plan at least two hours for this visit, then head south via U.S. 222 for the half-hour drive to Strasburg.
Strasburg Railroad, Sight And Sound Theater
Railroad buffs will find the town of Strasburg to be heavenly. You can climb into old railroad cars and locomotives at the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania or check out the model train displays at the National Toy Train Museum located nearby. But the real fun takes place at the Strasburg Rail Road, where you can hop aboard and ride through the Amish countryside. The conductor will point out various sites during the trip. Plan to spend at least a half a day in Strasburg.
The Sight & Sound Theater offers fantastic Bible story productions including Noah and Queen Esther. The shows include live animals and state-of-the-art technology to create meaningful messages through drama. This is an afternoon or evening activity.
When you leave Strasburg, take the 45-minute drive to Cornwall via PA-501. While in Lancaster County, you might want to stop at one of the farmers markets for a bite to eat or visit a few of these eight fantastic Amish markets.
Cornwall Iron Furnace
Cornwall Iron Furnace is part of a National Historic Landmark District. A survivor of our nation's early American iron industry, it is the only 19th-century charcoal fueled blast furnace to survive fully intact. You can view the furnace, blast equipment, and other buildings where cannons and stoves were cast.
This stop will require at least two hours to see everything before you head toward Gettysburg.
Gettysburg National Military Park
About an hour-and-15-minute drive from Cornwall, you will find Gettysburg, a quaint town with all kinds of interesting shops and restaurants. Civil War buffs will love Gettysburg. The battlefield is the site of the turning point in the Civil War. It is also where President Abraham Lincoln gave his impressive Gettysburg Address in 1863.
The Gettysburg National Battlefield is part of a national military park that also includes the Gettysburg Museum and Visitor Center and the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
You can drive, take a bus tour, or enjoy a carriage ride through the Gettysburg National Military Park. There are even tours through the battlefield trails on horseback. When I visited the first time, we took the narrated two-hour driving tour of the Battle of Gettysburg, but it took longer because we stopped several times to get out and take pictures.
The Gettysburg Freedom tour is over nine hours long, so the amount of time you should plan will depend on your interest and the type of tour you take. I would allow a minimum of half a day here.
There is a Civil War Ghosts Walking Tour around Gettysburg if you want something unique to do during the evening hours. It combines history with ghost stories.
A short 45-minute drive will have you at our final destination.
The state capitol building is beautiful, and Pennsylvania State Capitol tours are available.
Check the website to make sure the building is open. If you visit at the right time, you can watch the floor in action as legislators discuss bills.
At the National Civil War Museum, you will learn about one of America's greatest tragedies. Self-guided tours combine digital video, light, sound, dioramas, and Civil War artifacts. The tour lasts at least two hours, and I would allow a half a day to see everything.
If you need some exercise, go for a walk in Riverfront Park. You will enjoy almost four miles of scenic views of the Susquehanna River, plus gardens and sculptures. Cross the Walnut Street Bridge to City Island, situated in the middle of the river.
On the island, there is a one-mile walking loop. The island is also home to stadiums, miniature golf, and ice cream shops. There are restrooms available on the island, and it is an easy, level walk.
Bonus Stop: Hershey
Hershey Chocolate World And Flower Gardens
While staying in Harrisburg, you are just a short 20-minute drive from Hershey Chocolate World and the Hershey chocolate store. Who doesn't want chocolate? Enjoy the Hershey Flower Gardens nearby, too. You could complete the sweetest trip: with a perfect weekend in Hershey, PA.
- Almost all these sites require walking, so be sure to pack and wear comfortable shoes.
- Not all of the sites permit photos, so be sure to check when you visit.
- If you want some more foodie-centric stops, consider my recommendations for the perfect Pennsylvania foodie tour for travelers ages 50+.